In listening to Mark’s account of the Passion of Jesus Christ, there is present all the elements we are so familiar with. Our listening can be a little like making a mental walk along the stations of the Cross: the looming trepidation; the Last Supper; the betrayals of Judas and Peter; the unjust trials and judicial condemnation; the brutalisation by officials; the arduous journey from court to Calvary; the crucifixion and death; the burial. All of these scenes are familiar to us, even if they are received more intensely on this day of the Lord’s Passion.

Yet, at the beginning of Mark’s account there sits the scene in the house of Simon the Leper. It seems unexpected – even out of place – among the more familiar moments along the journey to the death of the Son of God. Why is it there? What is its point? How are we to receive it on this day?

To recall the scene: it is a few days prior to the Passover. Jesus is in Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem, where he had been returning to each evening from his teaching and actions in and around the Temple. A dinner invitation sees Jesus and his disciples dining at Simon the Leper’s house, presumably a significant figure in the town.

In the midst of the dinner, the dramatic incident occurs where a woman comes in uninvited, breaks open a jar of expensive perfume, and pours it over the head of Jesus. It is certainly a dramatic moment, and it is a deeply intimate and generous gift. Simon’s house would have been filled with the aroma. There could be no ‘hiding’ of this act. For their part, the disciples are outraged, supposedly because of the waste, especially with regard to the poor.

Jesus’ response is unsettling. What the woman has done is the better thing. Perhaps alone among the many people present, she has recognised the one thing that mattered in what was coming, the death of God’s chosen one. This woman has made an act of worship towards the one she recognised as the only one able to save her. This testimony before the Passion would be confirmed at its end by someone else who was ‘uninvited’, the centurion, who would say, truly this man is the Son of God.

The woman at Simon’s house, and the centurion at Calvary hill, are our sisters and brothers to be listened to today. They stand for us, and invite us to be with them. To see in Jesus the one who can save us is to see there is reason to hope in the midst of all that might distract or dishearten or divide us. Let us remember today her and him, the woman and the soldier. It is what Jesus asked that we do. And in our remembrance, let us also come to recognise what they both point to: the death of a man, who in his death, freed us to live.